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Cell phone ‘ping’ helps police narrow searches

By Charles McMahon

Thursday, November 12, 2009

PORTSMOUTH — The ability to track someone’s cell phone signal to a specific area may not be something new for fans of CSI and other TV cop dramas but the use of the technology became very real this past week as police searched for a little girl abducted by her father.

Maine authorities issued an AMBER Alert on Monday afternoon to find 38-year-old Gary Traynham after he allegedly assaulted his two-year-old daughter’s mother and fled the mother’s Sanford, Maine, apartment with little Hailey in a stolen pickup truck.

The U.S. Justice Department’s Website describes the Amber Alert Program as “a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and the safe recovery of the child.”

And that’s what happened right after Hailey was taken. The airwaves were saturated with reports about her abduction.

Through witness reports and information received indicating that Traynham had ties to the Lakes Region, police began to scour communities throughout Central New Hampshire. Signs of the alert were visible everywhere, from the state, local and federal authorities positioned along Route 11 on Tuesday to the electronic construction signs that displayed messages about Traynham’s license plate number.

Hours into the eventual 30-hour manhunt, police caught a break when they were able to determine Traynham had made a phone call with his cell phone and the signal had “pinged” or transmitted off a communications tower in Alton.

Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly told WMUR that authorities were able to get an idea of where Traynham may have been headed when they received information his cell phone had used the signal from the tower.

“They were able to draw an arc on a map and said information from the cell phone indicates Traynham and his little girl were somewhere in that arc,” Connolly told WMUR. “Son of a gun they were found right in the middle of that arc.”

Hailey Traynham and her mother were reunited Tuesday night in Sanford, Maine, after a deer hunter spotted her and her father in a pickup truck on a logging road in Milton.

An unrelated incident in Portsmouth on Wednesday offered further proof that tracking cell phones for law enforcement purposes can be life-saving and in some cases an important precaution.

According to radio communications, around 10:30 a.m. local police were on the lookout for a possibly suicidal Connecticut man believed to be in the area. Radio transmissions indicated Connecticut authorities had received information that the man’s cell phone had last “pinged” off a tower in the Portsmouth area.

Police were then asked to be on the lookout for the man at area hospitals and eventually found him at a friend’s residence unharmed a short while later.

Portsmouth Police Community Relations Capt. Mike Schwartz said the effort in tracking someone’s cell phone is a team effort with law enforcement and phone service carriers and is only used in situations deemed to be an emergency. When police determine a situation necessitates using the technology, Schwartz said they contact the cell phone carrier, identify themselves as law enforcement and request a trace of the last known signal used.

Schwartz said the service is then able to tell authorities the last tower the cell phone signal “pinged” off.

“It’s for emergencies and there is tight criteria on it,” said Schwartz. “Every now and then we get people who say they lost their phone and ask, ‘can you ping it?’ We have to tell them ‘no,’ that’s not an emergency.”

The tracking is also not always 100 percent, said Schwartz, but does give law enforcement agencies a good starting point.

Michael Murphy, New England public affairs spokesman for Verizon Wireless, also acknowledged the relationship law enforcement and cell phone carriers have when it comes to potentially harmful situations.

“Verizon Wireless maintains a Law Enforcement Resource Team (LERT) that is ready and available 24/7 to assist authorities with life-threatening situations,” Murphy said.

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Some Software Can Turn Mobile Devices Into Tools Of Espionage, Harassment

By Sonya Colberg
Published: October 12, 2009

Sneaky people and technology can turn your cell phone against you.

Cell phone spyware makes it easy for someone to eavesdrop on your conversations, intercept text messages and identify your location. And you may never know it’s happening, experts say.

“You are so dead,” an electronically altered voice taunted Courtney Kuykendall from her cell phone. Courtney’s mother, Heather, told a television station that someone used spyware to terrify her daughter with harassing calls that revealed the caller knew the teenager’s location, what she was wearing and saying.

“This type of issue is almost out of an outlandish sci-fi film. The reality is that there is no question about it, it is happening,” said Robert Siciliano, chief executive officer of Web site

Oklahoma private investigators say they’re getting many requests for listening in on private conversations. But Colin Pressley of Barrington Investigations LLC in Oklahoma City and Larry Mulinix of MPI Agency in Norman said they won’t touch it.

The private investigators said most requests revolve around trying to catch cheating spouses. Other popular requests are from clients who want to ensure their phones contain no spyware.

In most instances, cell phone spyware is illegal, said FBI spokesman Gary Johnson.

The Internet contains numerous ads for cell phone spyware, with software ranging from several hundred dollars to $69.95. Ads contain claims and testimonials such as: “Catch that cheating spouse,” “I learned all I needed to know the very first night,” and “I could not believe what that boy was saying to my 13-year-old.”

Mulinix said some software creates GPS logs of where the target phone has gone. Someone can sit at home and map the phone’s location.

“If I get hold of your phone I can install this, like a SIM chip, open the door up and put this in there, and I can monitor you,” he said. “You won’t even know it.”

The investigators say they stick with legal surveillance techniques.

“You get a lot of people that call up and just want to monitor their wife or spouse. A lot of times I spend hours watching a guy late at night while I’m out there (in the car) drinking Dr Peppers and eating Twinkies,” Mulinix said. “There’s a lot of boredom interrupted by terror.”

Average people can face nearly as much terror from Internet ads that harangue viewers to buy instant downloads. Some boast that, in just minutes, downloaded spyware can begin intercepting text messages and sending text messages notifying the spy every time the target phone makes or receives calls so the spy can listen in on the phone calls.

“Until now, the most bad guys could get are phone lists and the like,” said Sujeet Shenoi, computer science professor at the University of Tulsa, “which would be fine for the National Enquirer getting Paris Hilton’s phone number.”

The celebrity became a victim of cell phone trickery in 2005. T-Mobile and the FBI reportedly launched an investigation after the contents of Hilton’s cell phone appeared online. Numbers and e-mail addresses of celebrity buddies such as Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson were apparently hacked from her cell phone.

“You’re going to see more people reveal themselves in ugly ways. Right now they’re doing it for fun. They’re doing it for stalking and harassment. And as time goes on, you’re going to see it being used more for financial gain,” Shenoi said.

Courtney Kuykendall, the Tacoma, Wash., resident whose daughter was harassed by someone using spyware, said the calls stopped last summer without police finding a suspect. She said she would like to raise people’s awareness that spyware can be used to terrify.


SpywareA recent study indicated that one out of every 63 smart phones powered by a common operating system, Symbian, were infected with spyware or malware, a disruptive program or software. However, experts say you can take measures to help keep your cell phone safe.
Staying safe

Some examples of anti-spyware that work on most cell phones include Spybot Search and Destroy, and SMobile Anti-Theft and Identity Protection. Other suggestions include:→ Inconspicuously mark your SIM card with a scrape or initial.

→ Before meetings, remove batteries from cell phones.

→ Avoid reading texts or accepting pictures from someone you don’t know and trust.

Most secure

“Nothing can really be safe,” said University of Tulsa computer science professor Sujeet Shenoi. He said the most secure way of making a phone call is to use a landline.

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